German reform angertriggers far left, right surge

20th September 2004, Comments 0 comments

20 September 2004 , BERLIN - Anger over Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's tough welfare and jobs reforms has resulted in a surge in support for Germany's former communists and radical right-wing parties in two key state elections with the rightist National Democratic Party (NPD) entering a parliament in the country for the first time in 36 years. The Sunday polls in Saxony and Brandenburg showed the vote for the former communist Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS) and far rightwing parties - the German People

20 September 2004

BERLIN - Anger over Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's tough welfare and jobs reforms has resulted in a surge in support for Germany's former communists and radical right-wing parties in two key state elections with the rightist National Democratic Party (NPD) entering a parliament in the country for the first time in 36 years.

The Sunday polls in Saxony and Brandenburg showed the vote for the former communist Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS) and far rightwing parties - the German People's Union (DVU) and the NPD - coming at more than 30 percent in each of the two east German states.

All three parties have successively tapped into voter outrage in Germany's former communist east about Schroeder's reform plans, in particular his move to cut benefits for the long-term unemployed and to introduce means testing.

"It's a great day for Germans who still want to be Germans," declared NPD chief Holger Apfel in a German television interview following Sunday's election.

Apfel has also called for Germany to return to its 1945 borders and to reclaim land which is now part of Poland and Russia.

"Nothing and nobody will keep us from our struggle for the Reich," he told Germany's weekly Spiegel.

With unemployment in the eastern part of the country running at 18.5 percent, the jobless rate in the east is more than double the 8.6 percent in the west.

As a consequence, many in the economically hard-pressed east believe they are likely to bear the brunt of the reforms with the east becoming the focus of angry weekly demonstrations against the Schroeder reform drive.

Apart from strong support from young voters, about 40 percent of the PDS's vote in Brandenburg came from the unemployed with the jobless representing about 13 percent of the support for the DVU, which campaigned for "German jobs for Germans first".

Speaking on German television, DVU chief Sigmar Peter Schuldt declared that his party's success in the election in Brandenburg, a vast state surrounding Berlin, was evidence that the voters were fed up with Germany's current political ruling elite.

However, as a sign of the deep feelings of disgust in Germany's political establishment towards the rightwing parties, the appearance of NPD and DVU leaders in TV roundtable discussions of the party chiefs following the elections prompted a walkout by the other participants.

While the PDS, which represents a restructured version of the party that ruled communist East Germany, fell short of poll predictions that it could emerge as the leading party in Brandenburg, Schroeder's Social Democrats and the NPD each scored just under 10 percent of the vote in nearby Saxony.

The vote represented an 8 percent swing to the NPD which is Germany's oldest extreme rightwing party. In parts of Saxony, the NPD vote was more than 20 percent. 

The NPD's success comes after Schroeder's government failed last year in a bid to outlaw the party which is frequently likened by its critics to the early days of Hitler's National Socialists.

In Brandenburg, the German People's Union, which is the political vehicle of right-wing publisher Gerhard Frey, garnered 5.5 percent of the vote allowing it return to the state assembly with six seats and consequently beating the smaller established parties the Greens and the Free Democrats, which missed out on seats in parliament.

Frey's newspaper, "National Zeitung," regularly publishes articles about the threat of mass immigration under headings claiming that Germany faced a wave of millions of gypsies and that the number of Jews moving to the country would turn it into a second Israel.

Even before the weekend elections the prospects of the radical right making its mark on the polls had set alarm bells ringing across east Germany's business community with warnings that a strong support for the radical right could tarnish the region's image and set back its economic development.

However, analysts say that unlike in neighbouring Austria and France the radical right's electoral success in Germany normally proves to be relatively short-lived.

But despite the slump in support for Schroeder's party in the elections, the chancellor is likely to draw some comfort from the poll's outcome with Brandenburg's highly popular SPD Premier Matthias Platzeck beating off a more than 7 percent swing to remain the state's leader and the SPD emerging as a possible coalition partner for the ruling Christian Democrats (CDU) in Saxony.

Moreover, Sunday's elections also represented major political setbacks for the CDU which is the main national opposition party. CDU support slumped by more than 15 percent in Saxony and more than 7 percent in Brandenburg.

A relieved Platzeck told German television that his party had stood behind Schroeder's reforms and had not been dishonest in presenting them. "Despite the difficult times, we showed our face," he said.

However, Platzeck, who has led a coalition government with the CDU left open the door whether he would form a new government with the CDU or the PDS. If he decides to link up with the PDS it would be the third time that the PDS had joined a coalition in the east since the Berlin Wall was breached 15 years ago.

DPA

Subject: German news
 

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